Are your lights on? It’s Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights which started on the 7th this year. I recently had an opportunity to take these Indian spiced potatoes to a Diwali pot luck hosted by the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance in honor of this annual fête. I am not going to lie – although I feel quite confident in the tastiness of this dish – it is a bit daunting to take my spin on classic Indian cuisine to a culinary celebration that includes many Indian professional women chefs. Cultural appropriation is a big thing these days and the culinary world is not exempt. I tried to slide my dish in unnoticed, but it’s lack of “nametag”, sparking a few “what IS this???” comments, and those cute little bell-clad picks that I snagged in Mumbai’s Crawford Market ruined any chance of fading in the background. Oh, and I used habanero flakes instead of plain ole red pepper flakes!! These Indian spiced potatoes are no shrinking violet. Apologies to native Indian chefs for any pirating of their cuisine. And for Pot Lucky fans, rest easy. I already had an Indian feast on the docket for early next year. More taste treats in this flavor palate are on their way soon!
Diwali is a highlight of the Hindu calendar, celebrated in the fall here in the northern hemisphere. It is a triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. Sounds like something we could all use these days. “Light” has roots in most all world religions. While Diwali is celebrated for five days, the third day – today, as I write this – is the pinnacle, as it marks the darkest night in the Hindu calendar. Friends and family gather throughout the five days, and food is king.
I spent about a month in India ten years ago with a group from Women Chefs & Restaurateurs. We covered all things food along the entire west coast of the subcontinent, from Thiruvananthapuram to Mumbai. While very enlightening and informative, with stops at so many wonderful spice markets, it is not where this recipe derives its inspiration. I came by this recipe, if not with cultural integrity, with honor. It was handed to me maybe 30 years ago by Louise Spicehandler. If you can’t get spiced potatoes, with cumin, coriander and cardamom from a spice handler, then from whom? While I NEVER LOSE ANYTHING, this tattered print copy is, shall we say, temporarily indisposed. I suspect the original might have been copied from the NY Times, but since I can’t currently locate it, I am not positive. Louise was a great source of recipes and encouragement in my pre-professional days, as I dipped a toe in the culinary stream. As usual, Louise meticulously noted her adjustments in the margins of this recipe, and I meticulously followed them, until I didn’t. I think the ginger and the fresh herbs are my own, but to be honest, I never make it the same way twice. What do I have on hand? That’s the way I like it!!
Indian Spiced Potatoes (Khatte Aloo)
Khatte Aloo, or sour (khatte) potatoes (aloo), are often made with diced, possibly boiled, big potatoes. I can’t resist the cute little mouth-poppable rounds that are now found easily in your supermarket thanks to The Little Potato Company. They are multi-colored, one-bite wonders, serving as a delivery system for a whole lotta spice. And, I like to roast the potatoes, coated in spices, to further release the spices’ aroma.
I have always used lemon juice, but I asked one of the Indian chefs at the pot luck, and she uses lemon and lime. That sounds amazing. However you chose to make them, don’t overthink it. Large & diced or whole & small; spiced then roasted or boiled then spiced; whatever choices you make, Indian spiced potatoes are a great dish to serve with a pick as an hors d’oeuvre or even as a side dish at an Indian feast. I have also served them skewered with brats and peppers, both grilled first, then assembled for serving and topped with a tomato.
This dish is so quick and easy you might have time to run out and get yourself a henna tattoo! Then don’t forget to light the candles. Enjoy!
Khatte Aloo (sour potatoes) traditionally are diced, possibly boiled, potatoes. I like to roast tiny multi-colored, one-bite wonders and dose them with a whole lotta spice! Taste buds…you have been warned!!!
1 Tablespoon cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 1/2 pounds small (large marbles) potatoes
Zest of one and juice of 1/2 lemon, juice reserved
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Preheat oven to 425oF.
Pulse cumin, coriander, and cardamom about four pulses in a food processor or spice grinder until coarsely ground.
In a medium bowl, combine potatoes, lemon zest, and ginger. Drizzle with olive oil and stir to coat the potatoes. Season with cumin, coriander, cardamom, salt, and pepper flakes, stirring until the potatoes are spice-crusted.
Transfer to a sheet pan and spread out in one layer. Roast for 15-18 minutes until cooked through.
Transfer to a serving dish, scraping up additional spices left behind. Drizzle warm potatoes with lemon juice.
Serve warm or at room temperature, as a vegetable side dish or as an hors d’oeuvre. Before serving, toss with chopped mint and cilantro.
Every now and then – LONG HOLIDAY WEEKEND PEOPLE!!! – we deserve a real no-recipe recipe. Just take what you have and make it work. Since you are likely firing up the grill, this is one that you can throw on the side. Or if you are in a real hurry, you can throw asparagus in a very hot oven and let it do its thing in a matter of moments.
I first learned about high temperature vegetable roasting from the legendary chef/owners of Providence, RI’s Al Forno restaurant. George Germon and Johanne Killeen. They had just published their iconic book, Cucina Simpatica. I had yet to open New World Grill, but I was fascinated by their magic. They proved you could crank up the oven temp – 450 or 500oF – and blast any vegetable, with the exception of rock solid beets, in a matter of minutes. It was only the early 90s and we were otherwise much less aggressive about time and coaxing natural sugars out of our victims. Asparagus had mostly been relegated to boiling or poaching. Sure sure sure, it stays bright green that way, but so much of that baby is lost in the bathwater. Put it in a fiery oven or on a rip-snorting fire and you get this wonderful char that is a perfect foil for natural sugars.
Picking Asparagus Perfection
First pick the perfect stalk. Diameter is more a matter of preference, but it’s always easier to time the cooking if they are uniform in size. The hallmarks of a good spear are tight buds and firm stalks. Look for bright green or lavender-hued buds with wrinkle-free stems. Rinse them off under cool water to remove any sand and snap the bases where they want to be snapped. If the spear is a bit older, it will snap higher up the stalk. Follow the natural breaking point. If the stalks are bigger and super woody, you can whittle a bit away using a vegetable peeler. Make sure the spears are dry before cooking so they don’t steam. We are going for a dry cooking technique and want a little char.
How cute are these teeny weenies? I found them in a market in Slovenia and bonus!!! I got to pick asparagus from a nearby field the very next day. #heaven
If you need to store them until you are ready to use them, don’t clean them yet, but do give them a fresh trim on the ends. Then put them upright as you would a bunch of flowers in a container. A large liquid measure is a great and non-tippy choice. Cover the bases with a little water. I like to wrap the tops with paper towel to wick away moisture, then loosely tie a plastic bag around that. If the water gets murky, switch it out just like you would for flowers. You can store asparagus like this for several days, up to a week, but they are always best when cooked as soon as possible to avoid loss of flavor.
When it’s time to cook them, drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and toss to coat them all, then season with salt and pepper. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – or on the hottest grill. Cooking time will vary based on thickness, but can range from 8-10 minutes for thin spears to 12-15 for fatter ones. Give them a roll to turn about half way through and keep an eye on them. They should still be quite firm but start to get a bit of char.
Way too overcrowded. Single layer only – puh-leeze!!
To serve, drizzle a good balsamic vinegar and top with shards of Manchego. And because the measurements are all yours, this is now your recipe. Go. Enjoy. Brag. You’re welcome!
There was a time when asparagus was relegated to poaching or boiling and flavors were delicate, maybe napped with a Hollandaise? But no more! Char these babies and drizzle with a good Balsamic and shave some tangy Manchego on top.
1 bunch fresh asparagus (see notes above on selection)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
aged Balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 450 oF or fire up a very hot grill.
Prepare asparagus by rinsing under cool water to remove any sand. Snap the bases where they want to be snapped. Follow the natural breaking point. If the stalks are bigger and super woody, you can whittle a bit away using a vegetable peeler. Make sure the spears are dry before cooking.
Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil and toss to coat them all, then season with salt and pepper. Place them on a sheet pan in a single layer – don’t overcrowd – or on the hottest grill. Cooking time will vary based on thickness, but can range from 8-10 minutes for thin spears to 12-15 for fatter ones. Give them a roll to turn about half way through and keep an eye on them. They should still be quite firm but start to get a bit of char.
To serve, drizzle a good balsamic vinegar and top with shards of Manchego.
Top with a poached egg if you like!
Prep Time:5 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Method:Roasting or Grilling
And if you are as obsessed with the poached egg on everything craze as I am, why not? This makes a mean breakfast, brunch, lunch dish. I could even see some avo toast on the side…if I squint my eyes.
Muja what? I can hear you from here. Mujadara! You can spell it many ways and you can cook it even more. This dish – a combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF – seems a lovely way to break bread and bow our heads in solidarity to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. #GreaterAs1 The culinary roots of mujadara date back to Genesis, when Jacob bought Esau’s birthright with a meal of lentils. While the version I share here with yogurt and caramelized shallots is more Lebanese, the dish is also popular with Syrian and Egyptian Jews who historically tend to eat it twice during the week: a simple (hot) meal for Thursday before a more elaborate Shabbat, and then again cold on the Sabbath. Mujadara often serves as a Lenten dish for Arab Christians.
Some versions of mujadara let the caramelized onions do all the talking. But given it’s the coldest dreariest time of year, I have added all the wonderful pungent spices that you might find in other Middle-Eastern dishes: coriander, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and plenty of pepper. Trust me; they will brighten your mood. When I can, in a dish like this, I use whole spices (not peppercorns, but cumin and coriander, yes!) Since they will be simmering in liquid for a while, there is sufficient time to soften them up. As usual, they get a few minutes in oil before the liquid to toast them and to allow the spices to release their fragrance. Rarely will I add any spice directly to liquid. I can always taste that raw spice in the back of my throat if I was in too big of a hurry to take that one measly moment that I needed to toast it. For shame.
You may also notice that I have added a healthy dose of greens to this version of mujadara. Because I can. And because it’s winter and because they are good for you and because they add a hit of color. I know it seems like a lot, but I have made it with half that and prefer it with a generous portion. Up to you. (More, more, more, more.)
And a note on the crispy shallots: they really are caramelized not crispy here. If you want to make crispy shallots – which would be a great texture contrast – you really need to use a lot more oil and fry them. That’s not really the way I roll, but I do love the taste and texture. If you are leaning that way, you should make sure the thinly sliced shallots are patted dry and then toss them in a 50/50 combo of flour and cornmeal. Heat several cups of oil to about 300oF and drop the shallots in, frying til crispy, draining on paper towels. I used to do something similar for a lentil salad at New World Grill and while we didn’t have a deep fryer – the horror – let’s just say our technique was not far off. I. Just. Can’t. (But by all means!)
Mujadara is a warm and wonderful combo of lentils and rice, sassed up with so many wintery spices that you will want it for your BFF.
1 1/4 cup brown or green lentils
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 shallots, very thinly sliced by hand or in a food processor
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup long-grain rice
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 bay leaf
2 5-ounce packages (about 8 cups) mixed greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, chopped
Zesty Yogurt Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon whole coriander, toasted and coarsely cracked
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Zest of one lemon
2 Tablespoons chopped mint
Make the Mujadara:
Par-cook the lentils by simmering in a medium saucepan with 4 cups of water for 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and reserve the lentils.
Divide the olive oil, placing 2 Tablespoons in a large skillet and heat over medium. When the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and cook until well browned and crispy, about 30 minutes. As the shallots brown, remove and transfer to a paper towel and drain. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. If making this ahead, store wrapped in paper towel in an airtight container, once cooled.
Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a stockpot with a tight-fitting lid and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped onion to the stockpot, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in rice and sauté 2 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon stick, allspice, black pepper, and cayenne; sauté for one minute until fragrant.
Add 2 cups water to the pot, along with the bay leaf, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the reserved lentils. Cover and simmer over very low heat until the lentils and rice are almost tender, about 15 minutes more.
Rinse the greens and distribute across the top of the rice and lentil mixture, checking to see if the rice/lentils require any more water. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until rice and lentils are tender and greens are wilted. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir to combine greens.
Make the Zesty Yogurt Dip:
Combine the yogurt, coriander, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. To serve, add the lemon zest and chopped mint.
Makes 1 cup.
Serve topped with crispy shallots and Zesty Yogurt Dip, along with warm pita.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:60 minutes
This makes a great vegetarian entrée, but I took it to a friend’s who just happened to have a big ol’ pot of curried chicken thighs, and it was a match made in heaven. #damndelicious.